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Dave Douglas: The Infinite

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Trumpeter Dave Douglas continues to delight and stimulate open-minded listeners while confounding those unwilling to accept the notion that there is no rigid approach to jazz improvisation or composition. Douglas’ latest release should also silence criticism that he’s a lightweight writer and inferior, limited soloist. His playing throughout The Infinite proves consistently inventive, strong and resonant, while several of the disc’s selections feature intriguing arrangements and striking melodies despite their lack of rhythmic vitality or edge.

Douglas has crafted a worthy CD, inspired by Miles Davis, without making things overly reverential or derivative. He also keeps the audience off balance through clever alteration and/or substitution of instrumental and textural colors. At times, he’ll employ a trumpet/bass clarinet frontline with Uri Caine’s electric keyboard progressions darting along underneath and drummer Clarence Penn setting the rhythmic agenda. On other occasions, Chris Potter’s sturdy, darting tenor saxophone gets the spotlight, while Douglas and company react and respond to his statements. While it might be nice for Penn, a skilled percussionist, to have a more upfront role, he still teams effectively with bassist James Genus on all nine cuts.

Douglas emphasizes group interaction and unison playing as much, if not more than lengthy solo excursions. Several numbers like “Poses,” “The Infinite,” “Yorke” and “Argo” are more intriguing when the entire ensemble interprets or elaborates on the melody than when individual members improvise around it. But there are other selections where the group’s harmonic response and solo counterpoint are equally impressive such as “Penelope,” which contains moving trumpet contributions from Douglas and equally exciting statements by Potter, Caine and Genus, or the title track, which features dense, striking work from Douglas, Potter and Penn.

Douglas is frequently a very lyrical, arresting lead player, but he can also be a highly unpredictable accompanist-though he’s never unconventional simply for effect. This quintet doesn’t sound either over- or underrehearsed, and its music nicely balances precision with spontaneity.

Dave Douglas isn’t quite as versatile as Miles Davis, but he’s evoking just as much wrath from traditionalists who unfairly refuse to acknowledge him as a pivotal 21st century player, writer and bandleader.